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Electrolytes – Balance is Key – Part 1

One of the most asked questions I am posed with is what supplement(s) would I want to take with me on a desert island and my answer always remains the same, electrolytes. There are others I would bring along depending on how many things I could take like Vitamin C, trace minerals and definitely B-Complex vitamins (wouldn’t want pellagra, beriberi or anemia).¬†Electrolytes though would always be number one.

A better question would be, ‘If you were dropped into a western, developed country, which supplement would you most want to make sure you have available?’ My answer would definitely be electrolytes with a bullet. The balance between two components of electrolytes, sodium and potassium, are as messed up in the Western diet as could be imagined.

Before we go much further, we need to define what electrolytes are. The standard definition is ‘any fluid that conducts, or has the ability to conduct electricity.’ Distilled water does not conduct electricity so would not be considered an electrolyte. Most soft drinks like Cola’s can be called an electrolyte but they are very poor conductors. So what about those sports drinks that are mass marketed? They probably are but they have lots of things in them like sugar and food colorings that are not helpful and for many people, detrimental. Your best choice for good electrolytes contain a balance of salts without sugars, additives or colorings.

Going back to the question of electrolytes and the Western diet, why you might ask, do I feel so strongly about its need? According to research, the average human needs 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day and 2,300 milligrams of sodium. In the typical Western diet, we get about 3,400 milligrams of sodium, slightly above recommendations, but the real kicker is that we only get about 2,400 milligrams of potassium, almost half of what we should be getting.

Today’s health monitors tell us that we need to reduce sodium intake because of its implication in coronary heart disease and in particular, high blood pressure (hypertension). Problem is, most studies done to measure the benefits of sodium reduction come up way short. Frankly, they tell us that reducing sodium intake really doesn’t do anything beneficial unless the amounts ingested are far greater than the average person takes in. Medicine seems to be stumped which astonishes me as they are missing the other side of the equation, potassium deficiency.

The DASH study is supposedly the be all reason why reducing sodium works so well but when you look at the diet, it dramatically increased potassium and magnesium, two of the minerals most deficient in the Western diet. While sodium reduction was the focus, I propose that it was the improved diets (vegetables, legumes and fruits) that helped the most as well of increasing the minerals we needed.

Every food we eat contains potassium so our bodies do not store this essential mineral very well. We don’t need to. Sodium on the other hand, is found in far fewer foods so we have evolved to retain this mineral. For millenium, salt, which is known as sodium chloride or NaCl, was an expensive commodity and not available to everyone. Today, it is loaded into almost every processed food and is a cheap condiment. Because of the West’s reliance on fast food for its convenience and easy availability, we are getting all the sodium we need. Potassium? Not so much.

Fruits, legumes and vegetables are abundant in potassium but that is what we tend to leave out of our diets. And we don’t do this for a few days a week, we do this year in and year out. Continuing to be deficient in potassium should be one of the main concerns in today’s Western diet but unfortunately it isn’t.

Next time, I will continue showing how important electrolyte balance is and what systems within the human body are most affected by imbalances.

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Responses to Comments

In November of this year, I did two speeches at the annual Weston A. Price Foundation conference. Recently, I received my speakers review which had some interesting comments, some of which I’d like to respond to here.

Typically, when I get criticized I like to use it to improve my public speaking which is something I always strive to do. Comments like, “Spoke so fast it was hard to take notes” told me something important that I need to work on. Others, baffled me like, “Mark was too much opinion without 3rd party content or much supporting science.” What baffled me was in that particular presentation I repeatedly mentioned journals the research I was presenting came from and on one slide I listed nine references on the health effects of phthalates. On seven slides out of 46 I listed references or links to sites where the information came from like Environmental Health Perspectives and the Environmental Working Group. On top of it, I always tell my audience to doubt what I say and verify things independently.

One comment that enlightened me was, “I don’t think he fully understands the detoxification process and the role of the gut.” I guess I dropped the ball somewhat on that issue as I didn’t go into it in great detail, something I will do in the future. There are two slides in my presentation where I talked about the role of the gut, and I did go into how important it was to deal with gut issues, especially inflammatory reactions in the gut, but obviously, not enough. That will be a topic that I will go into in a future blog.

Here is one that tells me that the attendee may not have listened to me fully, “For research-oriented presentation I’d like to see bibliography or references; e.g he asserted aspartame proven to lead to insulin resistance – I can’t find proof of this. Great topic though, and otherwise good.” Problem here was I did not say aspartame was proven to lead to insulin resistance. What I did refer to was a paper in the October 9, 2014 issue of Nature magazine (which I referenced) entitled “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.”

I criticized and praised the article. My praise was for the study of this important issue, the overuse of artificial sweeteners and their potential affect on health. What I criticized was their broad statement of culpability of all artificial sweeteners when it seems that when you read the paper, all they studied in lab rats was the affect of saccharin on the gut microbiota. You can’t indict everyone when you only study one of them.

Another criticism I’d like to address was this one, “He stated that electrolytes were helpful for depression and internet later confirmed he is affiliated with seller of such.” Guilty as charged but I stated at the lecture that I had created an electrolyte but I was not going to mention its name as I wanted to avoid my talk being a commercial one, which is something I do at conferences like this one. My affiliation and part ownership of KTS Products is not something I have hidden but I understand the critique. In the future, I will make my affiliations a little bit more assertive, so thanks for the comment.

One critique on a scientific basis I need to address is this one, “Needs to inform himself between glutamic acid in protein and possible injury to brain similar to MSG.” Without glutamic acid, your brain would cease to function. According to Dr. Eric Braverman in his book “The Healing Nutrients Within” (which I highly recommend) “…glutamic acid is the most prolific neurotransmitter; it exists everywhere in the body and is present in almost all nerve cells.” He goes on to say, “Of all the amino acid in the brain, glutamic acid has the highest concentration with the exception of aspartic acid, another glutamate amino acid.” I made it very clear in my talk that there is a distinct difference between MSG and glutamic acid. To eliminate this important amino acid would come with dire consequences. What I also said was that¬†excessive glutamic acid is dangerous. Guess I didn’t say it with enough conviction.

All in all though, it was a great experience to speak at this conference and if you ever get a chance to attend (next year it’s in Anaheim, California), go. The people and the speakers were for the most part amazing and the attendees are fantastic.

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